We're much tougher — Ganguly

Ganguly may not suit everyone's palate, for others he is an acquired taste. For Chappell however there was no equivocating, this Indian captain he likes. As he told this correspondent: "I'm impressed with the fact that he has such commitment to himself and his team that in a very busy schedule he finds the time to find out what it takes to be successful here."

ROHIT BRIJNATH

So it figures that if you were captain of your national team, and you happened to go to Australia on some sponsor work, and you knew that four months down the road your team was going to have its ambition, courage and technique tested by cricket's equivalent of Attila's Huns (i.e. Australia), then it sort of makes sense to spend a few hours with Mister Chappell.

Which is, of course, what Sourav Ganguly did last fortnight.

There are people who are going to be surprised by this. There are people, still, who see Ganguly as a poser, as too complacent to plan ahead, too comfortable with his batting to ask advice, too cocksure to see any virtue in a reconnaissance mission.

People have got Ganguly wrong before, and they will again. If anything, he told me while in Australia that he might be back here, when the Australian season starts, "to look around, see the grounds, see how the ball behaves, check the conditions".

Ganguly may not suit everyone's palate, for others he is an acquired taste. For Chappell however there was no equivocating, this Indian captain he likes. As he told this correspondent: "I'm impressed with the fact that he has such commitment to himself and his team that in a very busy schedule he finds the time to find out what it takes to be successful here."

Successful? We'll be quite happy to survive.

If slow wicket means the ball rarely gets past knocking on your knees in India, on Australian pitches Glenn McGrath will be using leather to wipe the Indian's noses first ball. This test of adjustment, this battle against an Indian instinct, will be a primary factor in determining India's performance in Australia.

Chappell knows that Indian batsmen are creatures of their own conditions, programmed to bat a particular way; that they have "set movement patterns"; that once a delivery is bowled batsmen often do not think but produce an intuitive response.

It follows, he explains, that functioning well abroad has "all to do with changing mindsets". Easier said than done on bouncy wickets, for as he insists "it's easier adjusting down in height than upwards."

Chappell sees Australia as "more challenging than anywhere else" if only because nowhere else does the ball bounce as consistently. Nevertheless, he says, "India has enough talent to bat very well, it depends on their mindset, how they feel, if they believe they can win."

Yet, hard as it might be for a batsman to acknowledge it, he adds, "but at the end of the day it's up to the bowlers. If you can't take 20 wickets you can't win."

But what strikes everyone, Chappell, too, about Ganguly's India is its growing resolve, its often united stomach for a fight. "India's performance at the World Cup," he says, "was exceptional from a spirit, team-belief point of view, and that's great credit to the leadership."

Ganguly may be loath to reach out and pat himself on the back, but he is not coy either about defining what he likes about his team. "We're a unit, we're always helping each other. There's no back-biting, and there's a trust that's never been there before. And I think everyone's responsible for that".

Not quite given to standing-on-the-table Churchillian oratory, Ganguly says: "Speeches don't matter." As if to say, it's going to take more than a string of pretty words to band a bunch of disparate individuals together. "It's the small things that make a difference," he says. "How you react to a player who's not doing well, or who's been dropped, how you treat him, whether you back him."

The captain may be opening some arguments when he says he's seen the others, played them, too, and considers his team the "second best side". What he is, and we are, altogether more certain of, is who the best is. "This is going to be the toughest tour for us', says Ganguly. "We're really going to have to lift our game, in fitness, in work ethic, in quality. We've got to take one step up."

He's also up against an adversary, who might well be shifting uncomfortably, for as much as Steve Waugh often turns into Captain Grumpy when the subject turns to Ganguly, he is met in turn with praise from the Indian.

"I'm a great fan of Steve's," says Ganguly. "I like his attitude, the way he keeps coming back. Every time he's written off (he scores runs)."

But Ganguly's not liable to get carried away, either, and adds: "I'm more a fan of him as a player than a captain." And just when you think this might be an artful sledge, he clarifies: "I don't think captaining Australia is the toughest thing in the world. They've got everybody, they have players everywhere putting their hand up."

No kidding. Not only are the Australians a team that fields, bats, bowls and competes better than anyone else, they're so leathery tough that it is reputed they eat their beer cans after emptying them.

If that's not enough to scare off teams, Ganguly is going to be delivered no favours from some of the media here, who are unconvinced of his mettle. But the captain himself has become familiar with a questioning press (abroad, and in India), accustomed to suspicious scrutiny, and dryly remarks that he's not really bothered. "It's not really the first time or the last time it will happen. It's the fashion these days to get stuck into the opposition. I got the same treatment in England last summer. What matters is what you do in the centre."

And in the centre, India is gradually turning into a different proposition.

When Ganguly was announced as Indian captain years ago, he said in an interview that some of the players during India's last tour of Australia had been intimidated. As he said then: "When we toured Australia, and I'm not naming anybody, I felt a few of the guys felt, `Oh, it's a quick wicket,' or `Brett Lee is sharp' or `McGrath is bowling a great line.' But this is a sign of mental weakness. If he's bowling a great line you have to go and bat, you just go and play. If Lee is bowling sharp he's bowling sharp. Hell, he'll hit you what else, break a bone, that type of thing is little bit lacking. At certainpoints of the tour we got intimidated and we have to get rid of this mental block.''

When reminded of those words last fortnight, the captain said: "We're a different team. We're much tougher."

They will have to be.